According to the CDC, cold and flu season peaks from December to March. If you find yourself frequently coming into close contact with lots of other people or spending lots of time in public places this fall and winter, it might be a good idea to start embracing your yoga and meditation practice now more than ever.
Combined with a nutritious diet, enough sleep, and other healthy lifestyle habits, your yoga practice can help supercharge your immune system. In fact, there’s real science behind the effects of yoga and how it impacts the immune system.
That’s right — getting on your mat regularly can actually help your body ward off nasty pathogens. Here’s how yoga works to give you an immunity boost.
Relieve Physical & Psychological Stress
If your body is already under a lot of stress, you’re more likely to fall ill should you come into contact with a virus because your body is not as well prepared to fight it off. In a study that looked at the immunity effects of yoga on a group of 60 students who practiced yoga over the course of a 12-week period, researchers discovered that yoga helped their bodies resist the autonomic changes and impairment of cellular immunity associated with stress compared to a control group that did not practice any yoga. This suggests that the stress relieving effect not only makes us feel better, but also has real physiological benefits that help protect us from potential illnesses.
Inflammation is caused by stress, and yoga can help dampen or limit stress-related changes in ways that minimize inflammatory responses. In a comprehensive review of the effects of mind-body therapies like yoga, meditation, Tai Chi, and Qi Gong on the immune system, researchers found links between these types of practices and reduced markers of inflammation. Another study involving 50 healthy women who did a combination of yoga, movement control, and passive-video control in three separate experiments didn’t show any differences in inflammatory or endocrine responses, but the yoga did boost their mood, which is something that could certainly help reduce the burden that stressors place on their minds and bodies enough to potentially influence inflammatory responses.
Trigger Immune Response
Cell-mediated immunity is an immune response to to an antigen (a foreign substance to the body) that involves T cells recognizing infected cells so that they can be destroyed. A 2016 comprehensive review found that mindfulness meditation had possible effects on markers of cell-mediated immunity (in addition to inflammation and biological aging), suggesting that your yoga and/or meditation practice may actually help your body respond better to antigens. The research is tentative and further examination is needed to better understand these effects, but for now the findings at least suggest that mindfulness meditation may be help benefit immune system dynamics.
While the above immunity benefits of yoga and meditation won’t give you any excuse to wash your hands less frequently or kiss anyone who’s super contagious right on the lips, you can at least do your body an extra little favor by sticking to a regular yoga practice to help it resist and fight off anything that could make you sick. Cold and flu season won’t seem nearly as bad when your body is healthy and well prepared to keep you that way!
Image (edited) via Robert Begil